- Five-time All-Pro defensive end JJ Watt is a free agent after being released by the Houston Texans
- The Pittsburgh Steelers are favored to sign Watt
- A look at the odds of Watt’s free agency can be found below
JJ Watt will be playing for a team other than the Houston Texans for the first time in his illustrious career when the 2021 season begins.
The Texans granted the star defensive end his release Friday at his request. Drafted 11th overall by Houston in 2010, Watt won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award three times and was the 2017 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Now Watt is a free agent. Here is a look at who the oddsmakers think might sign him.
Odds to Sign JJ Watt
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||+200|
|Green Bay Packers||+550|
|Los Angeles Rams||+1100|
|New England Patriots||+1500|
Odds from Feb. 12
Marriage Goes Sour
Watt was named All-Pro five times and led the Texans to six AFC South titles during his time in Houston. Since making his debut in 2011, he leads the NFL in tackles for loss (172), quarterback hits (281), multi-sack games (26) and sack yards (713.5).
However, things went sour for Watt during the 2020 season when the Texans went 4-12 and finished third in the division ahead of only the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15).
Houston, I wanted you to hear this directly from me… pic.twitter.com/YqT3P6Lb6l
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) February 12, 2021
It was a tumultuous season for the Texans.
Coach/general manager Bill O’Brien was fired following an 0-4 start and an offseason trade in which he basically gave star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals. Making matters worse, quarterback Deshaun Watson has asked to be traded, even before his four-year, $156-million contract goes into effect at the start of next season.
Whether Watson will be with the Texans in 2021 remains to be seen – new GM Nick Caserio says he has no interest in a trade – but Watt will not be back.
He Can Still Play
Watt, who turns 32 next month, had a good season even if it was not quite to the extremely high standard he set earlier in his career.
Watt had five sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 17 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and an interception he returned for a touchdown in a victory against the Lions at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day.
J.J. Watt touchdown on repeat. pic.twitter.com/QOxbJYPFuB
— Daniel Gotera (@DTGoteraKHOU) November 26, 2020
Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 85.5 which was seventh in the league among edge defenders.
One of the most encouraging parts of Watt’s season was that he played in all 16 games for just the third time in the last six years. Injuries limited him to three games in 2016, five games in 2017 and eight games in 2019.
Family Reunion in Pittsburgh?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the early-line favorites to sign Watt and that makes plenty of sense.
Watt’s two brothers play for the Steelers. TJ is a linebacker who has spent his entire four-year career in Pittsburgh and twice been an All-Pro selection. Derek, a fullback, was signed as a free agent last offseason following a four-year stint with the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Steelers led the NFL in sacks with 56 last season and were third in total defense. Yet, if linebacker Bud Dupree departs in free agency as expected, they would need an edge rusher.
Making matters difficult is the Steelers are $30 million over the projected salary cap. Watt, though, might be willing to take a substantial discount to have a family reunion in Pittsburgh.
JJ Watt was heckling his brothers all day Sunday ? @JJWatt @_TJWatt @DerekWatt34
(via @NFLFilms) pic.twitter.com/mLWVcSPDH8
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 1, 2020
The Other Contenders
Tampa Bay Buccaneers general Jason Licht has signed plenty of big-name players in free agency while building the franchise into a Super Bowl winner. Watt would be a good fit if Shaquil Barrett and Ndamukong Suh sign elsewhere as free agents.
Tom Brady will be 44 when next season begins, so the Buccaneers are clearly in win-now mode as they look to become the first team to repeat as NFL champions since the New England Patriots in 2003-04 seasons.
Like the Steelers, the Green Bay Packers could play on Watt’s heartstrings. Watt grew up in Wisconsin and played collegiately for the Badgers.
Furthermore, edge rusher Preston Smith’s status is tenuous as the Packers can save $12 million by cutting him after June 1.
The Baltimore Ravens will likely need help on the edge as the contracts of Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue are expiring. The Ravens would also give Watt a legitimate shot to play in his first Super Bowl.
An interesting value play is the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones loves to make splash moves and the Cowboys need help after finishing 28th in the league in total defense this past season. Envisioning Watt staying in Texas is not so difficult.